Editorials

The Tribune urges a yes vote on Measure J

Southbound traffic crawls along Highway 227 near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport at rush hour. Funds from Measure J could help alleviate some of the traffic congestion that has worsened over the years.
Southbound traffic crawls along Highway 227 near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport at rush hour. Funds from Measure J could help alleviate some of the traffic congestion that has worsened over the years. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Of all the items on the November ballot, Measure J — the transportation sales tax — is one of the most critical to the future of San Luis Obispo County.

That half-cent sales tax increase would raise $25 million per year for nine years for local and regional projects. We believe it’s one of the best and most necessary investments we could ever make.

Many of our roads are in poor shape. Sections of Highway 101 and Highway 227 are so gridlocked that morning and evening commutes take twice as long as they did just five or six years ago. This is more than a minor inconvenience. It adds to stress and undermines the county’s reputation as a place to go to escape big-city gridlock.

And it’s not just highways that need help; communities are struggling to keep streets in decent shape. In Morro Bay, for example, the city recently floated the idea of disbanding its police force to raise revenue for street improvements.

The backlog of needs is huge. As we’ve reported before, San Luis Obispo County needs $4 billion to take care of local and regional transportation needs over the next 20 years, according to Ron De Carli, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments. Yet SLOCOG has identified only $1.7 billion in revenue over the next couple of decades.

Opponents of Measure J don’t disagree about the scope of the need, but they insist it’s Sacramento’s misplaced priorities that are to blame. They accuse politicians of squandering taxpayer dollars on “failed programs and bureaucracies” such as the high-speed rail project.

Here’s a reminder: California voters approved that project in 2008. Yes, it’s been beset by problems and escalating costs ever since. But let’s face it, so are many major infrastructure projects.

Flogging politicians over high-speed rail and bloated bureaucracies isn’t going to fix our roads.

It also ignores the fact that gas taxes that fund road repairs and improvements are down on account of falling gasoline prices and more fuel-efficient cars. As electric and hybrid cars become more popular, gas taxes will drop even more.

Many California voters already have recognized this by approving sales tax measures; more than 80 percent of the state’s population lives in counties that are “self-help,” meaning they’ve passed local transportation taxes that make them eligible for state and federal matching grants for regional projects. Santa Barbara County, for example, has a transportation tax, and that helped Santa Maria expand Highway 101 to three lanes in both directions.

If Measure J passes, 55 percent of the revenue will go to local jurisdictions; 25 percent to regional highway improvements; and 20 percent to bike and pedestrian safety and public transportation. All the revenue will stay in San Luis Obispo County.

We also like the fact that the tax sunsets in nine years, and there will be a citizen oversight committee to review spending.

A majority of public officials and candidates for public office support Measure J. So do many local organizations, including the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast and Bike SLO County, as well as local business and community leaders.

Opponents offer no option for raising revenue, other than calling on state legislators to get their priorities straight.

Again, rhetoric won’t fix our roads.

The Tribune strongly urges a yes vote on Measure J.

Facts about the tax

▪  Requires two-thirds majority approval to take effect.

▪  Sunsets in nine years.

▪  Requires a citizen oversight committee.

▪  Limits administrative costs to 1 percent.

▪  All revenue raised stays in San Luis Obispo County.

▪  Distributes revenue according to a set formula: 55 percent to local jurisdictions; 25 percent to regional highway improvements; 20 percent for bike and pedestrian safety and public transportation.

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